Every now and then we’re reminded by a new study that public places are completely covered with bacteria (and then we try not to vom handling grocery carts and restaurant menus). Out comes the ol’ shirtsleeve subway pole grip or the sidekick toilet flush. But do any of these germ hacks actually nix your exposure to the nastiness? We spoke with Philip Tierno, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine, about some of the more worthless (sorry) germ-fighting maneuvers.
1. Using Your Foot to Flush the Toilet
Unless you can figure out how to open and lock the bathroom stall door handle—a major germ zone—without using your hands, expect to leave the stall with contaminated paws anyway. Using a tissue to get in and out of the stall may help, but your best bet is to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water after relieving yourself, and use a paper towel or your elbow to exit the restroom.
2. Holding Your Breath When Someone Nearby Sneezes
“Unless you can hold your breath for a really long time, this isn’t going to help,” Tierno said, since those little respiratory germ droplets can linger in the air.
But if you can hold your breath and run in the other direction (without, you know, offending your sneezing boss in a meeting) you might be spared, as saliva and mucus droplets can only travel up to five feet or so.
2. Wiping the Lid of a Shared Drink
This tactic’s just so-so.
“It is somewhat helpful, since you’re cutting down on some of the salivary secretions, but there’s nothing foolproof here,” Tierno said.
Even a good wipe could leave behind strep or the stomach flu, which is never worth a single swig. Lie and say you have a cold if someone else is asking to try your drink.
3. Keeping Your Gloves on to Touch the ATM
Germs will transfer to your gloves and not your fingers…for the moment. But the minute you use your hands to pull off your gloves (or touch your gloves to your face), you’re back in contact with those nasties, Tierno said. The good news: Most cold and flu germs die off after a day, so as long as you lay your gloves out to dry (anything wet is a breeding ground for bacteria), you won’t carry around a cesspool of bacteria day after day.
4. Hovering Over the Toilet Seat
Who wants to put their bare ass where thousands of other bare asses have been before? Nobody. But pressing your cheeks against that cold porcelain really doesn’t raise your risk for infection, Tierno said.
“People worry about STDs, but they don’t thrive in that environment—and the seat would have to be crazy contaminated (i.e.: visible grossness like poop and vomit) for you to somehow get sick.”
Hovering can, however, raise the risk of splash-back (that terrible sensation of being splashed by toilet bowl water), and we can confirm that’s very gross.
The bottom line: Your best germ-fighting plan is to wash your hands (heck, soap up twice), use hand sanitizer, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, and steer clear of sniffly germ perpetrators.